There seems to be confusion on the processes the City of Dawsonville has taken with regards to the Calhoun Creek Reservoir. The approach is not the ready, fire, aim approach some are saying, yet we are carefully readying and aiming to define if this project brings value to our community and is viable to move forward once we have a defined, clear and concise plan.
If through this process we discover the project doesn't bring value to our community then we don't proceed and would not fire. This isn't a done deal. We have not committed funding, but are simply performing due diligence of a large complex project.
We also realize an important part of a regional reservoir is regional corroboration and the engagement of citizens.
I want to do a better job to ensure that citizens are informed, so I will start with describing the process we have taken.
In approximately June 2012 we were approached by a group to look into the idea of creating dialogue on the viability and land purchase of the formerly proposed Calhoun Creek project.
The prior proposal had changed due to rulings on water uses out of Lake Lanier and is still pending, the Governor assigned a task force to look at our water needs issues, the state budgeted funding to complete due diligence on projects and looked at redefining the way reservoirs are looked at.
The growth of the 400 corridor from Lumpkin all the way down to Atlanta is evident and many studies show the need for water resources to supply these needs as development continues.
One major change in philosophies at the state level is that larger regions work together to identify and support a regional reservoir instead of multiple smaller reservoirs in each county or city.
In this scenario, the state said you can apply to the state for funding (state purchase not a loan) to purchase the property for a given amount of time (at the end of 50 years the water authority either buys land from the state or the state continues to own property and lease it back to the entity) allowing for the development of the project and water to start flowing. It's a simple issue of cash flow similar to a business. Many of the rural regions don't have the funding to purchase large tracks of land to wait 10-15 years for the project to be completed.
At the same time, many studies are needed such as flow studies, environmental impact studies, needs assessments and the decision for which communities want to participate in a joint authority in the project.
On top of this there are years of permitting and construction. It is not an overnight project and takes on a process to see it to completion.
Much of this process is new to us as a city, and even to the state, as they have recently changed the way they look at water resources.
We realize, like the Governor, that water is going to be a critical issue for our future viability. We also want to be efficient and work with other governments in our region for the benefit of all.
Based on that, the decision to simply take a few steps forward was made.
Fortunately, some steps had already been made such as site selection and potential water capacity and flows. We found that the site selected was by far the best choice due to the least impact on property owners, land cost, ability to serve two basins potentially, water capacity, flow capabilities, site geographical make up and composition.
This site is a natural fit we have been told by many at varying levels, including experts at the state and in various reservoir development companies.
With a site identified, we heard two competing project ideas.
One, Etowah Hills, which looked at a much smaller capacity and water flows. The plan also called for funding by the state, yet looked to sell off lots surrounding the lake. There were no preliminary flow numbers given or other details to determine the viability of this project.
While the presentation was well and passionately presented the issues I personally found to be flawed with this proposal were the fact that there has to be a certain capacity (size) to hold the correct amount of water to pay for the project and make it simply cash flow.
Secondly, the proposals idea of selling off the lots isn't legal.
The state will not buy land and allow for an organization to turn around and sell off the land for their benefit.
Third, there was a real lack of knowledge of reservoirs, which with a project of this magnitude requires experts in the matter.
The second public hearing of a proposal was by Georgia Reservoir.
Their presentation was well developed by professionals and contained the estimated amounts of capacity and yields needed to make the project cash flow.
This proposal showed the capability and knowledge of managing and guiding the detailed process.
While the information they provided appeared to show a good project, I felt we still need more hard facts and plans on the viability of this project and the impacted to property owners.
Their engineering confirmed that the dam would need to be the size stated to maintain capacity yet I requested that this be reviewed for ways to mitigate the impact of a dam of that size.
The comments on the dam being larger than Lake Lanier's aren't exactly accurate.
The total required to hold back Lake Lanier is nearly 7,000 ft.
While a 2,000 ft. dam may sound large it is not uncommon in the state of Georgia.
The City of Dawsonville asked the state if this is a property, regardless of proposal, they would entertain going through this process with including the funding to purchase the property.
Secondly, we asked for a grant to do the follow up important and needed studies to see if it's a viable project which other governments have wanted to see before they sign on.
It's a catch 22... They need regional support with others, yet they won't come to the plate until more facts are nailed down. There are several reservoir ideas that are being researched just like Calhoun Creek. It takes at least one entity to get the ball rolling on getting details to even see if it's viable.
We took that step for the benefit of the whole region with this particular project just like the county brought the Dawson Forest Shoal Creek reservoir idea to the forefront a few years ago.
Now moving forward I believe that we can continue to make an effort to build those relationships and forms of communication with the citizens and with county officials that feel left out. We have open public meetings at least once a month and we welcome everyone.
With Mayor James Grogan's leadership and the other elected officials leading our city we are boldly moving the city forward.
Over the last year we have completed a revitalization plan, developed a plan to save the city millions by refinancing outstanding debt, saved hundreds of thousands on our insurance, developed plans to look 5-10-20 years down the road, updated software systems, installed new sign for instant communication and many other positives.
I do still believe we live in the best county/city in the State of Georgia and as your elected official, my goal is to keep that tapestry while weaving in improvements we can all be proud of.
Chris Gaines is a Dawsonville City Councilman. He currently serves as mayor pro-tem. Gaines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (678) 481-6387.